20th March 2011

Iaaf World Cross Country Championships

20 March 2011

European junior cross country champion Charlotte Purdue (coach: Mick Woods) continued her exceptional run of form when finishing 14th – first European and the highest-placed British senior woman since 2004 – in 26 degrees heat in the 39th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain (Sunday 20 March).

Leading the Aviva GB&NI women to fifth, UK junior 10,000m record holder Purdue dedicated her performance to her injured Aldershot team mate Stephanie Twell: “That’ll put a smile on her face!” she said.

Purdue improved on Twell’s 23rd place finish in Poland 12 months ago, the first British senior woman on that occasion, and was delighted to go one better than her junior debut performance in Mombasa in 2007.

“I really wanted to be first European,” she admitted after clocking 26:03 for the 8km, four-lap course,“ but when Mick (her coach, Mick Woods) said that I could finish top 15 I knew I could really do it.

“It was great to be in a race where I was pushed all the way,” she continued. “I had to change my race plan from the other races I’ve had this year and Mick still told to me slow after the first lap because he thought I was getting a bit carried away.”

Having dominated the domestic cross country scene it was perhaps no surprise she maintained that consistency on the global stage. Indeed, hers was the third successive Aviva GB&NI performance in this Championship to achieve the coveted status of top European athlete.

She was backed up by Hatti Dean (coach: Bud Baldaro), another consistently solid performer in high class international competition in 21st (26:35), with Stevie Stockton (coach: George Gandy) and Naomi Taschimowitz (coach: Charlotte Fisher) completing the scoring quartet in 37th (27:06) and 46th (27:23) respectively.

“It’s funny, everyone thinks I like running in the heat because I did well in Mombasa (World Cross 2007), but I hate it, I don’t enjoy it at all, I just seem to run alright in it!” said Dean.

“I was pleased with how I paced it, although I found myself a bit stranded at one point where I couldn’t quite stay with the pack ahead of me. I wanted to hold onto that group and I felt that if I’d gone off a bit quicker I might have held onto them.”

Behind the top four, Gemma Steel (coach: Roy Stowell) and Julia Bleasdale (self-coached) finished 54th (27:32) and 59th (27:39) respectively.

Vivian Cheruiyot took the overall victory and led Kenya to team gold in 24:58 ahead of her team mate Linet Masai, the hugely disappointed runner-up on two previous occasions in 25:07.

The USA’s outstanding Shalane Flanagan finished third in 25:10, the only non-African individual medallist of the day, and with her team mates packing closely packing behind her – all four inside the top 20 – the USA took a brilliant team bronze.

European junior cross country bronze medallist Emelia Gorceka (coach: Mick Woods) had earlier set the standard when finishing 15th – also first European – to lead the Aviva GB&NI junior women to fifth in their team competition.

Gorecka, who continues to impress domestically, has made no secret of her desire to compete against the best internationally and her delight at competing on the global stage was obvious.

“I’m over the moon,” she said, having stuck to her race plan and progressed steadily through the field from 24th position after lap one. “I was realistic before the race because you know you’ve got at least six great Kenyans and Ethiopians, but I really tried my best.

“I wanted a steady start, which can be hard when they go off so quickly, but I couldn’t actually move out of position so I didn’t fight it, I just went with it and I started to push on when I felt good.”

The 6km race had indeed gone off quickly, but it soon settled down into a scene of familiarity with a leading pack of nine Africans – soon reduced to eight, four Kenyans and four Ethiopians – setting the pace.

The leaders, unsurprisingly, kicked at the bell, but Gorecka, who enjoyed the sudden realisation that her race was going to plan, also continued to push and clocked 20:03 at the finish.

“I knew the race was on for me after two laps and I realised I was coping well with the heat,” she admitted. “This event just shows what you really need to be made of and it’s such valuable experience, but it takes a lot of experience to get it right so you need to take these opportunities – there are still seniors learning how to cope with racing the World Cross.”

Annabel Gummow (coach: Chris Wooldridge) progressed significantly from her 30th place 12 months ago in Poland and moved up from 29th after lap one to 22nd overall (20:20). “I got an ok start,  I basically went as hard as I could and I just stuck to my race plan. I found it really hard after the first lap and I just had to dig in. I could see Emelia and that was my motivation to keep at it; I didn’t want to lose sight of her. It’s a massive improvement from last year and I’ve learned so much.”

The scoring quartet was completed with Louise Small (coach: Mick Woods) in 29th (20:41) and Georgia Peel (also Woods) in 40th (21:21). Beth Carter and Ruth Haynes, also coached by Woods, finished 45th (21:34) and 66th (22:08) respectively.

Matching Gorecka’s junior women’s performance, Jonny Hay continued a successful day for coach Mick Woods with a 39th place finish in the junior men’s 8km event (24:35).

After his self-confessed disappointment at the European Cross Country Championships in Portugal three months ago, Hay stuck to his race plan exactly and benefited enormously from the support of his coach and the vociferous British supporters.

“I hit my aim (first European); I could see that I was moving in on the French guy and I heard Mick shouting that I had to have him,” said Hay. “I started to overheat but I took on some water and I recovered. Mick’s encouragement kept me going the whole way round and the British supporters were brilliant and kept me going.

“Mick told me not to go off too hard and I actually felt quite controlled at the start, I didn’t get carried away which was good.

“This last few weeks have been perfect and I’ve been feeling stronger and stronger in training.”

Scotland’s Ross Matheson (coach: Dave Campbell), recorded a satisfying Aviva GB&NI team debut when finishing second Brit in 53rd (25:03) after picking off athletes from back in 68th position after lap one. “My main aim coming into this was really just to continue my run of form from Birmingham (Trials),” he said. “I was actually less nervous about this than the Trials because I think I put more pressure on myself then; here it was just nerves of the unknown.

“It was fast from the start and I’d been a bit wary about that, not so much about the pace, but the feeling of being packed in and the claustrophobia, but it was ok.

“I just kept setting myself targets at each lap, and when I saw Rich (Richard Goodman), that was my biggest target.”

Making up the scoring quartet, Ben Connor (coach: Jerry Hall) finished 67th (25:29) with Richard Goodman (coach: Geoff Williams), in 71st (25:37). Ian Bailey (coach: Mick Woods) finished 72nd (25:40) while Tom Curr (coach: Chris Frapwell), found it tough in the hot conditions, finishing 95th (26:28).

The senior men’s race concluded the days programme, and in the absence of a former champion, Imana Marga of Ethiopia took his opportunity to win the global title for the first time with victory in 33:50 ahead of Kenya’s Paul Tanui (33:52) – the only non-Kenyan gold medallist of the day.

Andy Vernon (coach: Nick Anderson) was first British athlete home over the 12k course in 58th (36:38) although he had trailed Tom Humphries (coach: Phil Clamp), who eventually finished 64th (36:47), at the bell.

“I’m frustrated because I had a recurrence of a back niggle and it dictated the pace I ran,” said Vernon. “It eventually started to ease off and I made up all my ground on the last lap. I just wasn’t running as hard as I could have and I think that I’m fitter than I showed today.”

Humphries praised the UKA medical team after spending time on the physio table prior to race day: “They’ve been amazing this weekend,” he said. “I felt quite comfortable with that pace and it’s given me some confidence, but I had blisters with the heat and every step hurt!”

Behind Humphries, steeplechase expert Luke Gunn (coach: Bud Baldaro) may have enjoyed the log jumps, but it was inevitably tough as he fought hard to finish 73rd (37:06); he’ll do well to remember Seb Coe’s words of wisdom from the earlier team meeting: his return to the track will be easy compared to this.

James Walsh (coach: Mike Baxter) completed the scoring quartet in 77th (37:20) – although they were disappointed to finish 15h team – with Ryan McLeod (coach: John Nuttall) and Derek Hawkins (coach: Lawrie Spence) in 83rd (37:35) and 91st (38:01) respectively.

Aviva GB&NI Team Leader Ian Stewart was pleased with the performances overall: “That was much better than we expected,” he admitted. “I thought the junior and senior women were excellent and we’ve definitely got to target a podium finish for the junior women in the next World Cross, that’s realistic.

“We didn’t have our strongest teams, we knew that, but I’m very happy; we’re continuing to make progress, and we’re also delighted to see the result of Mo Farah earlier today (Farah won New York City Half Marathon in a British Record of 60:23).”